How to Prepare for Your First Business Conference
Millions of people attend exhibitions, conventions, meetings and trade shows every year in the United States alone. That would explain why there are more than 250 convention centers located throughout the nation, with Florida and California leading but closely by Nevada.
Naturally, conventions are not limited to convention centers like Chicago’s McCormick Place. They are also held at other types of properties like the luxurious Dover Downs Hotel & Casino. Just like conventions are not limited to one type of facility, they are also not limited in terms of their focus or scope. From fun-filled gatherings like Comic Con, which attracts well over 100,000 attendees, to smaller, industry-specific gatherings, academic get-togethers and much more, odds are good you can find conferences of all sizes that focus on a wide range of things.
In the context of the country’s biggest exhibitions and conventions, Statista reports that 30 percent of them have over 2,500 attendees while 10 percent have fewer than 200 people in attendance. Like attendance, engagement of conference attendees is also high, with 65 percent of participants being engaged in at least 80 percent of the event. When you factor in people who are engaged in a minimum of 50 percent of a conference or exhibition, that number swells to an impressive 87 percent.
Whether you are going to your first or fiftieth business conference, it is important to remain engaged throughout the event to get the most out of attending the conference. While that is the case, it is even more crucial for first-time attendees to be engaged because you will be making your first impression on people who work in your industry.
If you are a veteran conference attendee, you already know how to prepare for a conference. If you have not attended a conference before, you may be wondering what to do and what is expected of you. Getting ready for a conference is not an intuitive science, after all. If you are looking for some tips that will help you prepare, you are not alone. Many first-time attendees benefit from some advice about preparing for their first-ever work-related gathering of their peers.
Attend the Briefing
People attend conferences for a wide variety of reasons, such as having the chance to meet others in their field, presenting their ideas, soliciting business and learning new things. Even if you are only going to a conference because your boss insisted you be present for the event, a conference is still a good opportunity for you to spread your wings and broaden your horizon.
If you are trying to figure out how to get the most out of a conference, you should start by making plans to attend the briefing. Many conference organizers are keenly aware of how overwhelming your first conference can be. To make things easier and more comfortable for first-time attendees, organizers often plan a session that is referred to as a "briefing."
A briefing is a meeting that will explain the basics of the conference and how things will transpire during the event. In addition to teaching you what you should expect during the conference, a briefing gives you the chance to meet other people who are new to attending conferences, which will put your nerves at ease and allow you to start building your network right from the start.
Plan Your Itinerary
In general, conferences typically have multiple sessions going on at the same time. You should not wait until you are on-site to pick the particular sessions you will attend. You should do so before you even leave home, making sure your choices cover a nice range of topics and provide ample learning and skill-building opportunities.
While you may be tempted to fill every moment of every morning, afternoon and evening with educational sessions, do not give in to this temptation. To truly get the most out of attending a conference without wearing yourself out, you must plan for some downtime. You should also plan to attend some social events where you can interact with your colleagues and establish relationships.
Remember — if you end up attending a session or a social event that simply is not what you thought it was going to be, it is okay to leave. The key is to use your time wisely and get the most out of your overall experience. Suffering through a disappointing session or social event is not required for you to optimize your experience.
Get Your Apps Ready
Do not wait until the last minute to get your apps ready for action. Download apps that will help your upcoming trip go seamlessly. You may want to download an app to facilitate parking at the airport or one that will let you know how the traffic in a given area is moving, for instance. The conference you are going to attend may have an event-specific app that can help you navigate crowded hallways and streets so you can get to the sessions you want to participate in.
One kind of app you should definitely consider downloading is a Wi-Fi finder. Just like this kind of app can help you find Wi-Fi service and avoid overage charges on your data plan, it can also make you a hero of sorts. It is highly unlikely that you will be the only conference attendee in search of Wi-Fi in various locations. You can use your app to help others find Wi-Fi, which can enable you to get to know and befriend others.
Gather Business Materials
Even if you work for an organization that only does business online, you still need to bring some physical materials you can give to the people you meet. One of the most important things you should bring with you is your business card. If you want to make a lasting impression on the people you meet, be sure your business card includes more than just your name and contact information on the front. Make sure it also has some information about the brand you represent on the back.
While it is common for a business card to have contact information on the front, it is not nearly as common for it to include a brand’s values or some other meaningful details on the back. Use this to your advantage to make yourself and your organization stand out in the minds of the individuals you meet during a conference.
Develop a Plan for Digital Content
In today’s connected business environment, it is crucial for you to develop a plan for any content you plan to share online before, during and after a conference. If you are making a presentation during the conference, you may want to share a preview of what you will say online to entice people to attend the session where you will deliver your presentation.
During the conference, you can use tools like Facebook Live to create live broadcasts of what you are doing. A live broadcast is a great way for you to engage with other conference attendees and your social media followers. Whether you choose to do live broadcasts or you are content to upload a few pictures with some comments, be sure you tag other conference attendees, especially if you want them to join your professional network.
You should use digital content to keep yourself and your company fresh in the minds of the people you met after the conference ends. You can make a photo album of the conference’s most memorable moments or offer praise for some of the presenters whose sessions you attended. Just remember to tag the people whom you want to see the content you share on social media.
When it comes to digital content, do not overlook the importance of updating your company’s website and blog with relevant conference news. These platforms are also wonderful places for you to share some valuable insights with people who were unable to attend the conference themselves, which is something they will appreciate.
Create Your Pitch and Some Conversation Starters
In a typical conference, it is likely that many people will ask what you and your company do. You need to prepare for these moments in advance because you will probably encounter them time and time again and your answer needs to be consistent from one encounter to the next.
Think of a short elevator ride being the equivalent of all the time you have to explain what you do and what the company you represent is all about. Then, create a pitch that is 30 seconds long or even less.
In addition to creating your pitch, you should invest some time in coming up with some conversation starters. An effective way to start a conversation with someone you do not know is to introduce yourself and ask a question that requires more than a one-word response. If you are going to attend a session and plan on approaching a presenter afterward, research the topic that will be discussed and prepare some probing questions you can use to engage the lecturer in conversation after the person’s presentation.
Make a Conference Preparation Checklist for Your Devices
While you may know to bring your smartphone, tablet and laptop to an upcoming conference, things may get hectic the day of your departure and you may end up forgetting something. The chargers necessary to keep your devices powered up are often forgotten in the rush to catch a cab or get to the airport on time. Err on the side of caution and make a conference preparation checklist for all your electronic devices and use it as you are packing up your things.
If you are going to make a technology checklist for attending a conference, be sure you put a wall tap at the top of your list. Just about everyone attending a conference will need to charge their devices and outlets may be in short supply. With a wall tap, you can turn a single outlet into a power source for several devices. Just like a Wi-Fi finder app can make you a hero, having and sharing a wall tap can enhance your hero status even more.
Get a Lightweight Shoulder Bag
While you may be able to get away without a bag of any sort during a typical day at the office, it is unlikely that will be the case when you attend a conference. Even if you are staying in the hotel that is the host site for your event, you will not have the chance to run to your room every time you need something.
If you do not have one already, invest in a lightweight shoulder bag that can accommodate everything you will need to make it through a full day of the conference. Your laptop or tablet, your wall tap, a notepad and pen, snacks, a beverage and your phone are just a few of the things you may want to tote around in your bag. Be sure your bag is big enough to accommodate all those things without being big enough to require a chair for you to rest it on.
Shop for Healthy Snacks and Beverages
While there is generally not a shortage of available food or drinks at a conference, you should still bring your own healthy snacks and beverages to avoid overdoing it on indulgent meals and sugary beverages. If you are going to drive to an upcoming conference, you may want to pick up some healthy snacks and drinks before you leave home and bring them with you.
If you are going to fly to your conference, you may want to call the hotel where you will stay and inquire about grocery stores nearby to ensure you are able to get the foodstuff you want once you are on location. If the nearest market is too far away or the snacks and drinks you want are not available in the area, consider ordering them from an online retailer like Amazon and having them shipped to the hotel for delivery on the day of your arrival.
Choose Your Clothing and Footwear Carefully
While it is unlikely you can get away with wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt at a business conference unless you are in the fitness industry or a professional athlete, it is essential that you pack clothing and footwear that are comfortable. Conferences often involve long days and a lot of physical movement. You do not want to pack pants that are a little too tight or a shirt that has a tag that will keep you scratching and squirming in your seat for nine hours per day. You also do not want to bring uncomfortable or new shoes that have not been broken in.
Just as you want to pack comfortable clothes and shoes for when you are participating in conference events, you should also pack clothes and footwear for other types of things. If you budgeted downtime for relaxing by the pool, remember to pack your swimsuit. If you are going to arrive a day early or stay a few days after the conference to explore the area, pack the appropriate leisure clothes.
For a more in depth guide on what to wear, click here.
Prepare to Be Away From the Office
No matter your role within your organization, it is critical for you to prepare to be away from your office for the length of the conference. Try to wrap up any projects you are working on before your departure. If that is not feasible, make sure you assign responsibility for them to someone qualified to handle your projects in your absence.
Do not forget to update your voicemail greeting and set up your email with an auto-responder to alert people that you will be out of the office. One of the biggest points to a conference is to give people the chance to share face-to-face interactions they could not have otherwise. By updating your voicemail greeting and setting up an auto-responder, you will not have to be on your smartphone every minute of the conference because the people who tried to reach you will know not to expect an immediate response.
When you set up your conference itinerary, you should reserve a set time each day to respond to voicemails and emails. Include this information in your voicemail greeting and automatic emails so people will know the approximate times you may return their calls and respond to their emails.
Get Ready to Network
Whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, it is perfectly natural to get nervous about meeting new people, especially when you expect to be surrounded by hundreds or even thousands of them during a business conference. While being nervous is understandable, it is not an excuse to avoid networking events during a conference.
Here are some tips that can make networking during a conference much easier for first-time attendees:
- After you meet someone new, look them up on LinkedIn to see if you share some contacts or they know someone you are interested in meeting.
- Sit in the front row during presentations. This is often where you will find the most talkative audience members.
- Be genuinely curious about what other people do and say. This will make them want to continue talking to you and it will motivate them to seek out your company when you are attending the same presentation in the future.
- Wear something unusual or unexpected like a silly hat that has your company’s branding on it. Your unexpected attire will attract attention and draw people to you to inquire about it. Just be sure you do not take things too far and offend people with what you wear.
- Remember the briefing you attended at the start of the conference? Reach out to a few other people who were also in attendance and ask them to join you for dinner. Encourage them to bring someone they met at the conference so you can meet them, too.
Still unsure about networking? Check out our guide to networking at conferences!
Have the Right Attitude
For you to get the most out of a conference, you must have the right attitude. Instead of being nervous about going to your first conference, think about all the opportunities attending the event will provide. This will make you look forward to going and improve your frame of mind.
Getting enough rest before you go to a conference can also improve your attitude. Staying well-rested throughout the conference will help keep your spirits high through the length of the event as well. With long days filled with activities being part of a typical conference, you will need to get adequate sleep every night to stay alert and positive during every social event and session.
Practice at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino
If you are getting ready to go to your first conference, you may want to practice your networking skills beforehand. What better place is there than Dover Downs Hotel & Casino to brush up on your networking skills?
When you visit our breathtaking property, you will be greeted by staff members who strive to do more for our guests every day. You will have a wide array of amenities and locations to choose from where you can meet and interact with other people and perfect your networking skills.
Whether you are enjoying time in our welcoming casino or 18-table poker room, doing some shopping or grabbing a bite to eat in one our on-site restaurants, you will have plenty of opportunities to practice networking. At the end of a busy day of networking, you can get a relaxing massage in our spa and prepare to lay your head down in our luxurious hotel.
If you already survived your first conference and want to reward yourself, treat yourself to a long weekend at our luxurious property. We host many conferences at our location and we know firsthand how hectic they can be. Come to Dover Downs Hotel & Casino and let us pamper you as you recover from the rigors of the conference you attended.
Whether you visit our magnificent location before or after your first business conference, we invite you to book a stay at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino now!